“Under mango green”

Published in the Amore: Love Poems anthology (Spring 2016).

Under mango green

sheets, down comforter
the tropical colors of
papayas’ and cantaloupes’

inner fruit, your walls pomegranate,
avocado furniture, ceiling a bright plum.
We would slurp mango slices
on piled pillows, legs tangled together,

juices dripping from our wrists,
your soft chin, lips skating
across the heel of a hand,
trailing sticky liquid behind.

I never got to tell you how
those tastes influenced me:
my love of fleshy unknown fruits,
of lush brazen women, the way

I still think of you when I savor
sweet juice creeping down my chin.

“The Contents of My Purse”

Published in the Santa Fe Literary Review (2017).

The Contents of My Purse

Gum to chew when you’re talking over me; keys; cell phone and charger, obviously; glitter pens to absentmindedly swirl your name, those fat Sharpies to blot it out; tampons for surprises—including, to be clear, nosebleeds and spills; that book you told me to read forever ago, with no bookmark and not even one page dog-eared; a smooth stone you found way back when we used to walk by the river every week; business cards—mostly other people’s, but a few of the ones for my paintings with my old phone number crossed out; my name tag from work, a smear of long-dried-but-still-sticky gravy over the last three letters; wallet, stuffed thick with receipts and pictures and credit cards I can no longer use; a small notebook for random reminders, phone numbers, grocery lists and angry notes to shove under your door; quarters for downtown parking on the off-chance you offer to pay for dinner—even just coffee—if we meet up; a plastic airplane bottle of chardonnay; mace for might-be-muggers; that ring you gave me, the prongs around the little glass gem crowned with lint; a coupon for two-for-one steak dinners, probably already expired; the first—only?—letter you ever wrote me—the envelope folded in half and in half again, then tucked into a side-pocket and accidentally through a tear in the lining—the scent of your cologne still lingering rich and spicy on the crisp paper, perfuming my bag from silky depths I can never quite seem to find.

“The Girl Grown from Coral (Notes)”

 Published in HeartWood Literary Magazine Issue 3 (April 2017).

The Girl Grown from Coral (Notes)

1. Whenever this One Guy comes through Alexis’s checkout line in the Phoenix, Arizona Whole Foods, she can’t help but imagine his tongue (flat and profound) positioned just below her belly button, skating along her clavicle, or their bodies emanating heat like stretches of road in the desert outside, hazing over imperfections and giving them each a flushed glow. Each time, just after she blushes when she first spies him, she can feel light-headed lust like slow smoke under her skin, seeping out the way she has seen coral (when scuba diving with her estranged father on vacations paid for by his guilt) release great silky clouds of eggs and sperm, surrounding her in ribbons of mist made of her attraction to this One Guy.
Coral is a simple animal, much like her desire for him: inspired by his narrow but muscular shoulders, the shapes in his curly auburn hair, face dappled with light freckles, lines of musculature drawn across his calves, the in-between-green-and-blue color of his eyes. She has paid such careful attention when he stands before her, absently tapping buttons after swiping his credit card or scooping his purchases into his eco-friendly grocery bag, that she knows what he’ll buy to some degree based on the time of day he comes in: always apples (braeburns or pink ladies or Fujis), in the mornings a protein bar, most times at least one of those nasty Kombucha drinks, in the afternoon a large bag of chips, either hummus or salsa, and maybe a vegetarian frozen pizza, which always makes Alexis wonder—as she watches him leave, her head clearing like warm salty waters as the tide moves in—if all that is for him.

2. A New Mexican tourist has just smiled as she told Alexis about the bright red and soft pink coral in her silver rings and thick bracelets—”Coral are like us: what’s left of the dead stacked into foundations for the living. One of the sacred gifts my pueblo received.”—and Alexis is twisting the ring of turquoise and coral that she got in her Gram’s will, thinking of the mesas outside Gram’s house and the Rio Grande flowing about a mile off, but then forgets the whole vast landscape when the One Guy is suddenly in front of her in a tank top—his arms looking especially solid and soft at the same time—looking right in her eyes and saying, “I like when you’re working, Alexis. I try to always come through your line.”
A dizziness (like rising too quickly with a scuba tank or when she bums cigarettes while drinking) overtakes Alexis and her lungs feel a bit smaller than before as she pushes his items across the scanner and says, “Thanks. Nice seeing you. Too.”
He chuckles, lifts the pasta and tomatoes into his bag as she tries to conjure anything else to say, anything to prove that he just surprised her, that’s all.
He slips his sunglasses over his eyes. “Well, have a good one.” Then he is gone and Alexis is still just trying to breathe (spinning her ring twice as quick as before), feeling like when a sudden tropical storm takes out years of diligent growth in a single unexpected wave.

3. All that evening until she closes out her register, she replays their latest interaction in her head, her legs still a little trembly as she sculpts what will surely be perfect replies for next time. She pictures the One Guy laughing like she knows he’s not in a while, eyes wide as he’s taken comfortably aback by Alexis’s sudden confidence, her sense of humor, the way she plays right into his hand. His reaction (she knows) will be perfect, but she has to give herself the right self-image to pull it off, has to convince herself that she can put a hand on her hip and a smirk on her lips just right so that her One Guy never even realizes it wasn’t natural—because if she doesn’t believe it, how will he?

4. That night in her bed (nude because this fucking heat!) she watches headlights draw stripes along the ceiling and thinks of his lean body and almost-well-kept beard, the few light hairs peeking from his shirt collar, the ways she will impress him the next time he appears before her, bright as the desert sun. When her hands slide where his would go, she can suddenly see him more clearly than before, reaching out for her—his hair floating like he’s underwater, crowned by small shells and pale crab claws long abandoned, and he’s whispering to her like a bubbling spring—then pulling her by the hand: out the door and across the scrubby plains and rough mountains to the closest body of water, where it looks like back home, mesas like outside her old front door, a river beside.
Then Alexis sees herself, fertile as a reef: a school of little silver fish appear from behind her back as brittle stars and sea fans reach from her hair, soft anemones sprout from her hips, an eel snakes out of the cave of her loosely-held fist and bright coral branches from her elbow, thighs, the wrist of the hand still held in his.

5. But a few days later—after noticing that One Guy in the dry goods aisle with a girl she has not seen before who is definitely not his sister—Alexis decides that she likes the fact that coral is of all things immobile, could not pursue even if it wanted to, and seems to simply ignore mating but for the time and place when the seething clouds appear and collide, their substance coming together (a sweaty, cursing fuck in the backseat of his car or the community room on her break a few weeks later that neither of them could have planned for) only to then disappear with the tides like they had never even spoken, the singular proof of their union an anchoring polyp, swelling shoals, the layering bones of blossoms once met.


“Jane Doe”

Published in HeartWood Literary Magazine Issue 3 (April 2017).

Jane Doe

1. The shallow hole is dug surprisingly close to the house despite the nearby woods, unlike most places bodies are found, which are marked by several things: soft soil, lots of trees for coverage, abandoned buildings, wildlife to eat remains, and no people for as far as possible. 2. As far as possible, it seems, even the remotest areas have been utilized for violence—one park ranger found a thumb nailed to a tree, another a nude corpse 70 miles from any road—meaning that really, though maybe not plausibly, bodies can be found just about anywhere. 3. Found just about anywhere well-populated, a dead body causes an anxious stir and everyone panics, but out in the country—where rural boogeymen still sing from the trees at night—no one talks about a body too much unless it was a friend or relative. 4. A friend or relative is almost always behind it—like poisoned candy and deep-set psychological issues—but most of them never get picked up because once the victim is dead, who’s to say what happened? 5. What happened here, though, is still being debated: the hole was only half-filled with soil, fingertips still visible, but also seems full to overflowing with something else: delirious ennui, predatory desperation, maybe a former lover’s good luck and hope? 6. Good luck and hope never seem to be reliable enough to use as tools to get away with murder, especially now that forensic testing—white lab coats and petri dishes, trace samples and DNA swabs—is the first thing anyone does. 7. The first thing anyone does when they find a body is try to find ways to believe the body isn’t really dead—even if it’s cold and buried, even if they don’t know the victim, have no ties whatsoever to whatever-the-fuck happened. 8. “Whatever the fuck happened depends on your perspective,” the lieutenant keeps saying, but everyone agrees this half-filled hole feels like a crime interrupted, like a gun left by the bed for self-defense used to take out the owners of the house or a sentence so lyrical and winding that halfway through, it simply unravels. 9. Halfway through it simply unravels, most detectives say, the best thread they had, the only one that clearly pointed to a believable killer, that explained what was happening on the night in question or before the gun was pulled out. 10. Before the gun was pulled out, the hole really did seem shallow, barely ankle-depth, but the moon through the clouds glinting off the long barrels made the hole grow so dark, the ground beneath it opening up, deep with shadow. 11. With shadow from cloud-cover blanketing the road, cut through only by headlights on the way to his place outside the suburbs, she had watched the city lights recede in the side mirror and told herself the night had been fun: a quiet date with an old flame from high school, the one who had hopefully grown out of being a little too rough during sex, who was still so handsome and acted so sweet in public. 12. Sweet in public but impatient and unapologetic afterward, some killers sexually assault their victims before yanking them outside, standing them at the edge of a hollow patch of earth stretched open like a ravenous waiting mouth, flashlight aimed at the victim’s eyes to disorient. 13. To disorient the police, some killers take the victim’s ID and plant false clues, little indicators that lead nowhere to make sure they have time to leave town, to sever ties—one last fuck, a final meal with a buddy—to pack their shit and hotwire a new car so they’re as far away as they can manage to be when the body gets discovered, when all their accomplishments and mistakes are suddenly naked before the police. 14. Naked before the police—her arm still over her eyes like when she blocked the flashlight’s glare, fell backward as screaming flames burrowed into her chest, her bare back and limbs smacking the dirt heavily—she tries to point the officers’ stoic glances in the direction he drove off, to spit his name like she used to when he dumped her in high school, to cover her gaping breasts and the little bit of blood from his bedroom, to tell them her worried mother’s phone number, to promise that she’s nothing like the girl they must think: another case gone cold in a shallow hole.

“A Lungful of Air”

Placed Fourth in Pithead Chapel‘s 2016 Larry Brown Short Story Award; published in Vol. 6, Issue 1: the contest issue (January 2017).

A Lungful of Air

The soft crash of waves moves away from the dock, the square platform in the middle of Crater Lake that’s held in place by a heavy chain connected to the slick wooden bottom and rooted deep in the muck twenty feet below. Alex sits closer to the shore, his palms flat on the rocking planks, as I sit with my knees up, elbows perched. I glance behind me at powerboats humming across the water, the big brick houses across the lake from the state-owned stretch of sand, then turn my head to the beach, the girls sunning in their new bikinis, the clutter of guys drinking by the grill, Shana’s two kids in the water and her watching them from the little sandy crescent of the shore.

I watch Shana, one hand blocking the sun from her eyes, and remember leaning on my kitchen counter finishing a Milky Way as she promised over the phone that there would be enough people here that I wouldn’t even have to look at Alex, and that she’d be sure to keep an eye on him to make sure he wasn’t bothering me. I hear laughter as the youngest kid, perched on a green inflatable crocodile, drifts to shore by the boat ramp and Shana pushes the float back out into the water. I wish it was shaped like something more docile—a duck or something.

“It’s weird, huh, Mark?” Alex turns to me, his tricep flexing like it would when he used to bend over me in the bed of his dad’s Chevy.

“What is?” I look at the land, at the tall pines that border the sand and then hold close to the uneven line of red-clay shore that curves out from the beach to make this tiny cove. I know the pattern the trunks make after coming here for years—in high school, Shana and I used to drink here when the moon was full because we could bring our boyfriends and there was plenty of space to sneak off, be alone with them. She brought Jason until they split up, then it was whoever she happened to be dating, a lacrosse player or a man too old to go to our school. I was always with Alex.

“That we’re all here together again.” He swings his hands around when he talks, like an orchestra conductor—we used to make fun of him for it, but he would just flick us off as one of his hands swooshed by. “It’s been, what, three years?”

“Four.” I gaze down and lower one of my hands to the wood beneath me to peel a large splinter from the dock. Fucking dangerous. “Since we were all together.”

“Damn, it’s been that long?” He turns his body toward mine now, spreading his legs across the dock so that his dripping feet sit on either side of me. “Doesn’t seem like it.”

I look up at him, the even-toned olive skin over his swimmer’s muscles, the dark blond hair that falls over his eyes, the bright red swimsuit. “No, it doesn’t.” I toss the splinter into the water where it floats like the inflatable crocodile by the shore; my mind, like I knew it would when I saw the float, even when Shana first told me that we were coming to the lake, starts grasping for every image of a crocodile I’ve ever seen and places them all in the water beneath me. Sometimes it’s not crocodiles, but it’s always something. For years—beginning after Shana and I watched Jaws when we were eight—it was sharks, even in fresh water—

“So what’ve you been up to?” He looks straight into my eyes and leans back on his arms.

“Nothing.” He doesn’t need to hear that I’m still not over him after three fucking years and haven’t left this podunk town, that I work too much at the deli and drink whenever I’m not working. “You?”

“Well,” he says, turning to the line of trees to his right, “Darryl and I had a one-bedroom up in Richmond, but then he left a few months ago. I kept the apartment.” He pauses as beyond him, the sparrows flit from branch to branch. “Got a job as a bank teller downtown.” Alex flicks his head back in my direction, moving the hair from his eyes. “You want to swim?”

I look down at my baggy t-shirt and loose jeans. “Nope.”

He blinks and pouts his lips. “Why not? You like swimming.”

“I used to like swimming.” The crocodiles beneath me swing just past my mind’s eye, stirring up sediment as they circle the thick chain beneath the water. “Besides, I didn’t bring a suit. That’s why I wanted to row out.”

Alex glances behind me at the paint-flaked rowboat I rowed to the dock. He had swum behind the boat, despite the fact that I had already told him to leave me alone. I give Shana a death-glare, but I know she’s too far away to catch it. 

He stands, his calves and forearms suddenly solid and lined as he stretches. “Well, I’m going to swim.” He does a perfect swan dive into the water by the boat, making the dock sway.

I lean my head back and shut my eyes, the warmth from the sun creeping along my face and neck. I can see the hungry crocs below, waiting in the shade while he dives before zooming up from the silt to catch his leg, his arm, his mouth opening to scream, bubbles floating to the top as the water turns red like in the movies. 

I hear Alex surface and blow water from his lips before going back under. I pull my t-shirt up to let the sun on my skin, the soft cotton rubbing the point of my nose and along my arms; I try to ignore the skin that folds over the waist of my jeans—the weight that’s crept back ever since he left and I started volunteering for more shifts—lay the t-shirt on the dock behind me and lie back. I don’t know why he’s so stupid. I barely swam the last time we were here, after graduation—we swam all the way out, but I only thought about getting on this dock and lying in the sun together. We stole touches and stopped to kiss under the water until we reached the dock—I rest a hand over the ache in my chest. The dock was new then, the boards freshly lacquered, the metal not yet rusted. I jumped in with a snorkel mask to try and follow the chain down to the bottom, and when I looked around in the murky brown, I could picture rows of big, white teeth charging out of the depths faster than I could hope to swim. I knew they weren’t there, and I do now, but I still told Alex I was tired and made him stay close as we swam back. It’s always what I can’t see that scares me, the places where I know shit lurks but I can’t sense it. It’s why I shut my bedroom door when I’m alone in the apartment at night; you never know what’s creeping up behind you when you stop payin—

“Come on, get in the water, Mark,” Alex calls as I sit up, water splashing onto my feet, speckling my jeans.

“No,” I say to his head, bobbing a few feet out in the blue-brown water. “I’m not wearing trunks.”

“So what? You have boxers. Come on, it’s fun.” He splashes more water onto the dock. I roll my eyes and lie back down as my stomach churns. Why is he being like this? He was the one who made me leave, told me he had grown past me, why—

“Come on, babe.” Alex’s voice is low and a little raspy, the same tone it would always fall to when he whispered to me. I turn my head to see his hands wrapped around the gray metal poles of the foot ladder, his eyes trained on me.

Did he just call me babe?

I cough lightly to clear my throat and sit up, folding my forearms over my lap. “You’re not allowed to call me that, Alex.” I look down at the near-white wood of the bleached dock, the twisting dark lines that show the color of the wood at its core. The dock rocks as Alex climbs the ladder and I exhale hard, the muscles in my hands flexing tight.

“Why not, Mark? I used to call you babe all the time.” He stands over me, smiling down, his abs flexed in the sun, drops of water shining on his skin, then kneels, softly placing his hip, then his elbow on the wood beside me as my shoulders and neck tense. His wet fingers graze my bicep and the muscle jumps, the skin tight with goose-pimples. “Remember?”

The water and the crocodiles, the dock and the shore wash away as I look at the bright sky and the slowly moving clouds and think about that word, babe, that single word. When he would squeeze my hand at home football games in the back of the bleachers and wink as he said it; the times when his jock friends would sneer as I waited for him at the pool and he would say it into my hair when they were out of sight; the e-mails he would start with it; the hand-written notes on Christmas presents and at my birthday; breathing it in my ear because I told him to be quiet while my parents slept in the next room or while we had his dad’s truck for the weekend; when he actually told me, “Babe, we had a good run, but I think Darryl won this one.”

I sit up and push his hand away. “Shut the fuck up, Alex.”

“What?” His stomach flexes as he speaks and I fold my arms over my belly.

“Shut. Up.” I turn and grab my t-shirt, pull it over my head and stand, taking a step toward the boat as he scrambles.

“What are you doing?” He steps between me and the boat, the layer of fine hair on his chest catching and reflecting the sun’s light. Beneath me, a crocodile’s black eye gleams.

“I’m leaving. I don’t want to be trapped out on this dock with you.” I stare at him, trying my best to keep a “don’t you even” face on as a shiver runs through my knees.

He reaches out for my shoulder. “It’s just been awhile since I’ve seen you—”

I step back, over the shallow puddles he left on the planks, the dock and boat mashing together, our movement driving them into each other, forcing waves out toward the shore. “I know it has, Alex. And hopefully it’s going to be even longer next time.” I turn back to the shore and step to the edge of the seesawing dock, my toes clutching the worn rubber bumper that goes along the rim. The crocodiles are swimming closer in my mind, lingering where my shadow cuts through the sunlit water—need to get that fucking rowboat—and my heartbeat doubles, my neck goes slick with sweat. The muscles of my legs feel like they’re going to explode as the sound of a speedboat swings nearer behind me.

“Mark. Come on. I just want to be close to you.”

The dark green and brown ridges of the crocs split the water before me, their jaws opening as they twist and swim around the chain, as they wait in the shade of the dock, ready to flick their tails and break the surface with rows of jagged scales.

“Like I used to be.”

When I feel his fingertips on my back, I suck in a breath—filling my lungs despite the pressure in my chest—and leap away, kicking wildly at the claws and teeth waiting to slash and swallow me whole; the water moves coldly up my skin as the shore disappears from sight and Alex’s voice fades behind me into the din of rushing water.

“Continental Drift”

Published in The Vignette Review (December 2016).

Continental Drift

Greg is gone—the bright-eyed young man who in her mind is still skinning his knees and getting vexed when other kids don’t get along, the one who has decided in his second year of college to specialize in veteran medical care and who wants to explore other sides of the world, do things like climb Kilimanjaro and scuba the Galapagos—but he’s really only away for the summer and it is for school credit after all, a trip to Spain to fulfill his foreign language requirement, though as his mother sits in California drinking lukewarm white wine, watching heat roll off the asphalt—the only human among three cats in the condo she kept when her second husband left—these facts do not really seem like any consolation. When she knows Greg is at the university just halfway up the state, in his dorm room or at the dining hall, she can tell herself that she could see him in less than a day if either of them really had the time or inclination—but now her son’s absence is felt the way she notices hunger or that her foot has fallen asleep: aggressively and as she simultaneously recognizes a multitude of other feelings.

More often now, she imagines the 6000 miles—roughly 9000 kilometers—of vast country and ocean between them, but sees the distance in terms of tectonics: a path along the hard exterior of the lithosphere from the Pacific plate to the North American, then all the way across, a little skim along the edge of the African and then securely onto the Eurasian plate—but those images always evolve from where he is to what he’s doing: tasting an actual Valencia orange or taking a selfie in front of Moorish architecture, or maybe, really, more likely sleeping at the exact times when she thinks of him. Regardless of what she pictures him doing, at the end of the process she cannot help but go to her bedside table, to the drawer where she quietly keeps small luminous stones Greg used to bring her way back when he wanted to be a geologist too—of course she’d never have enough room to keep all the rocks he had given her, but the ones he’d thought were really special or that she might have never seen before tumble about now as she gently tugs the soft wooden handle. She used to buy Greg books about minerals and the Earth’s core, about magma and fossils and tectonics, fill his shelves with discarded specimens from the lab where she worked, anticipate his excitement on the rare days when he got to go to work with her—she had never thought even once before giving birth to Greg that he might like the same things she did, especially something everyone else found so dull.

So, now, when it’s a little too much that Greg is absent—and enjoying himself no doubt, nowhere near miserable and perhaps even ignorant of her anguish—she pictures the globe and divides the distance in her mind: she watches the Earth’s crust fracture along tectonic faults, the mantle giving way and the magma roiling beneath the hard exterior as the lip of the Pacific plate rises to overtake the North American, sliding its hot belly all the way across the U.S. and then into the Atlantic Ocean, nudging the African toward India—reconnecting Madagascar in the process, surely—and up the underwater shelf toward the Eurasian plate, allowing her to indulge in a new proximity, California touching Spain’s coast like a kiss on the forehead, like a soft hand on her shoulder, like a steady voice in a dark room when she thought she was all alone.